Japan has this very distinct term called Wabi-Sabi or 侘び寂び, which does not easily translate into German or English.
Jisho.org defines it as follows:
aesthetic sense in Japanese art emphasising quiet simplicity and subdued refinement
Simplicity and refinement. Sounds familiar? Maybe it is. I, for one, have blogged about it’s marks on Japan and the world countless times. It can be in garden design, food preperations, architecture, tea bowls, modern furniture or even digital gadgets.
First though I recommemd you to understand the historical development of the term. As outlined very well by the blog Tofugu, Wabi-Sabi was distilled by the higher classes in Japan especially during the Edo times of nearly full national isolationism. And it evolved to becoming the go-to adjective when describing most tourist attractions in Japan.
At the end of the text the author cites a professor from the University of London:
[It is] very close to minimalism nowadays, but it’s minimalism with a conscious choice.
And that should sound familiar. Ever heard of Bauhaus? Or Form Follows Function? Functional simplicity through refinement and design improvements? Or even simple sustainable design?
The british Designer Jasper Morrison brought this point to me in an interview he had with the NZZ this spring.
He is one of the big names behind Muji’s great array of houshold goods. And Muji is the perfect example of modern Wabi-Sabi or as you might think Bauhaus Design.
Morrison calls objects that follow such a design „supernormal“ and discribes their simplicity like this:
[…] Dinge, die supernormal sind, sind nicht einfach nur alltäglich und gut, sondern bleiben über eine lange Zeit funktional und richtig.
[…] Things that are supernormal are not just commonplace and good, but they remain functional and right for a long time.
My entrie flat is furnished with them. Simple, great materials, completely functional and giving you a sense of undistracted self, when you sit in it. No pattern that distracts or kitsch that you have to endure. No unneeded hooks or buttons. Just right and simple. Like Bauhaus wants to be.
But most people who visit it mistake me for some kind of religious minimalist. An extreme form of Zen that needs to be admired like a marathon runner or ascetic monk. However from the perspective of modern Wabi-Sabi or Morrison choosing things that last amd simply fullfil their intended function over the ages, is a logical and frugal solution and leads to improved design, rather than a religion for its own sake. Simplicity amd Refinement.
Wabi-Sabi also includes the acceptance and design for wear and tear. Like in a perfectly functionally planned moss areangment on a tea house’s roof (Function is to make you feel in wild nature) or a imperfect glazing on a tea cup. The intention is to point to the imperfection and relish in it. Modern design does this as well with ideas like planned ageing of concrete or the used leather of your iPhone case.
Simplicity that lasts, accounts for the wear as a form of beauty because its function remains relevant. Let’s see how my Muji showroom apartment does over the years then.
Get more design in your live. 👯♂️📱